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Saturday, October 21, 2017

God, Atheism and the Problem of Evil - Part I

In a Christian Context

An experience is good which heightens the appreciation of beauty, augments the moral will, enhances the discernment of truth, enlarges the capacity to love and serve one's fellows, exalts the spiritual ideals, and unifies the supreme human motives of time with the eternal plans of the indwelling spirit, all of which lead to an increased desire…to find God and be more like God.
The possibility of evil is necessary to moral choosing, but not the actuality thereof. A shadow is only relatively real. Actual evil is not necessary as a personal experience. Potential evil acts equally well as a decision making stimulus in the realms of moral progress and spiritual development. Evil becomes a reality of personal experience only when a moral mind makes evil its choice.
~ The Urantia Book

Part I

Let us talk for a moment about evil, let us talk about it so that we may understand it.

Let us talk about the nature of evil, about its ontology, its “being” or lack of it (as some philosophers and Doctors of the Church would have us believe).

Let us talk about the role of evil in the universe as conceptualized by different groups of people, in different times, in different places, in their many different ways.

Let us talk about its relativity and its objectivity.

Let us set aside for a moment the notion that we understand what evil is, or that our understanding of evil coheres to our view of the universe as a whole.

The primary definition for evil, according to Webster:

Evil a) morally bad or wrong; wicked; depraved; b) resulting from or based on conduct that is regarded as immoral.

Webster’s secondary definition: causing pain or trouble; harmful; injurious.

In light of these definitions, which represent the most common understanding of the nature of evil in the western world, the questions that I am forced to consider are: which definition of evil is appealed to when the existence of evil is used as an evidentiary claim against the existence of God, the creator of the universe?

Christian philosophers and theologians have stumbled for centuries over these questions, employing grand distortions of logic, and oblique attacks on common sense to “litigate” the issue, while at the same time failing to convince those who are not already “true believers,” that they grasp the nature of the problem.

Many of the problems associated with the classical understanding of evil have to do with the meaning ascribed to the term.

Different cultures around the world give many different explanations for the existence of evil. They give to evil a great variety of roles in the framework of their cosmogonic and teleological mythologies.

Within the ontological structure of evil, different cultures posit a wide variety of powers and liabilities, in a range of categories for which there are both significant areas of agreement and disagreement.

Atheists from ostensibly Christian cultures, frequently make the claim that the existence of evil counts against the existence of God, as if the existence of one precludes the existence of the other, as if they were co-equal powers playing a zero sum game, and while this is a commonly held view regarding the nature of reality, it is out of synch with the basic philosophical commitments of the Christian faith.

Atheistic arguments of this sort often appeal to the definitions provided by Webster as evidence in support of their claims. Though it should be noted that their arguments depend just as much on what their understanding of who and what God is, as it does their understanding of the nature of evil.